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Designing for Older People
Designing for Older People

Older adults are a heterogeneous group, but one that may nevertheless have in common certain life experiences, such as growing up with certain technologies, becoming a grandparent, or retiring. In this project, we look to the values that this group may also share as a starting point in designing technologies for them.

Technologies for older people can be designed to address health issues such as frailty and cognitive impairment, social issues such as loneliness and isolation, or design issues relating to usability and user experience. The view behind such innovations tends to reflect an idea that older people need to be monitored by others, need help meeting people, or need assistance understanding new technologies. However, a closer inspection of the gerontology literature, and research that seeks to understand the values and attitudes of older adults towards technology, suggests that a different approach to design may be more fruitful.

In our publications on this topic, we have argued that what it means to be 'old' might be better understood in terms of roles such as grandparenting, life phases such as being retired, and the shared experiences typical of any cohort. While research in HCI typically positions older people as recipients of care, the social sciences literature shows instead that older people are often providers of care, even to their adult children, and that placing them in the role of 'receiver' may have negative ramifications for self-esteem. We have also questioned the idea that older people might be more accepting of new communication technologies, especially those supporting lightweight messaging, if only they were designed to be more accessible to them. In our research on older people's attitudes towards communication technologies, we found that a more 'heavyweight' mode of contact offered a better fit with the ways in which this cohort understood communication; consequently, technologies such as video-mediated communication were viewed more positively than text messaging. We explore more deeply the use of a lightweight messaging device in our most recent paper, which is currently in press.